Command and Control

Command and Control

 

My Mutha and Daddy were not at home on this particular Saturday.  This was not unusual.  Daddy was never at home on Saturday mornings.  He was always ‘at the office’.  There’s really no way to tell where Mutha was.  She could have been volunteering at the Sheltered Acres School, a residential facility for developmentally disabled children (we called them Retarded in the 1960s), or she could have simply been at a Morning Coffee where she and all of her cronies would have gotten dressed to the nines with hats, gloves, high heels and gotten together in someone’s home in order for one of them to be ‘feted’ or for some event to be commemorated.  They rarely had a good reason to justify their endless cycle of Morning Coffees, Bridge Luncheons, Afternoon Teams and Cocktail Parties.

 

I came to the profound insight at 7 years old, that ‘someone has to make a few decisions around here’ because of my own take charge personality, aggressive attitude, my own physical and emotional need for order and structure and most importantly, because of the mess I was seeing in front of me.

 

Our dining room table, my Grandma Jean’s sideboard, our marble top wash stand and most of the seats of the twelve dining room chairs were covered with unopened mail, baby shoes, children’s dirty socks, a hair brush, barettes, homework left incomplete and unattended for a 2nd grader and a 4th grader, lots of baby paraphernalia commingled with the crystal cut glass bowl that had been a family piece for six generations that was always strategically placed in the center of the dining room table between the two sterling silver candelabras and on top of  silver mirrored tray with little feet that Mutha constantly referred to by some French name that was completely meaningless to everyone else.

 

All available surfaces were completely covered with all of this stuff, accumulated over a period of days, weeks and months.

 

The hard wood floor at one end of the living room was completely trashed with various shoes haphazardly kicked around.  There were at least two pairs belonging to my Mutha, and each one of us five children.  They were all left in the middle of the floor where we had kicked them off as we came through the front door and small foyer.

 

Our book satchels were overflowing with books and papers.  Our lunch boxes were there having never been emptied from the day before with that interesting aroma of left over banana peels and tin.  The ash trays were overflowing with cigarette butts.  Coats and mittens were dropped on the floor or hanging on the backs of the dining room chairs, causing the chairs to sit precariously ready to tip over if a small child bumped into them.  I realized that this disorder, this craziness was not appropriate and I could do something about it.

 

I yelled up the stairs to get my older sister who was all of 8 years old out of her book that she was always buried in.  I got my three younger siblings away from the TV in the basement rumpus room where they had been glued to the Saturday morning cartoons for hours.  I lined everyone up and started barking orders as best as a 7 year old drill sergeant is capable of barking orders.

 

I directed two people to clean up the kitchen and two to work on the downstairs bathroom and laundry room (which were always scary places).  I announced that I would clean up the living room.  I scurried to bring order to the living room, make all of the beds upstairs and then I gave myself permission to lounge on the sofa in a pose that I often saw my Daddy strike, usually at least two times every day; at lunch and before and after dinner (which meant that this was he positioned himself during waking hours at home).  When my siblings, ages 3 through 8 realized that I was no longer hard at work like they were, they came in to protest the unfairness of being bossed around by me, when they perceived I wasn’t doing my share.

 

I announced, “I don’t do domestic work”.

 

Even though I often worked tirelessly to clean and organize all the rooms of our home, something happened inside of me that day when I experienced the power of mobilizing  the forces of my four siblings.  I honestly believed, in that moment, that my talents were better utilized in providing the directions rather than rolling up my sleeves to do some of the work.

 

A fire was ignited that burns to this day.  I got the volume turned up too high on my gifts, almost like a radio sqwaking so loudly that you can no longer hear the music.  My gift has always been to see what is possible for others.  That day, I saw that it was, in fact, possible to have a clean orderly house, even on the week-ends.  As a result of this awareness, I started taking responsibility for things that I absolutely, at 7 years old, was not responsible for.  I felt a sense of power and control.  I felt a sense of accomplishment.  I loved the new-found order and cleanliness.  I really loved feeling more competent than my parents at bringing order to chaos.

 

To this day, over 40 years later, my siblings remind me of this experience and worse, they tell their children this story over and over.  They all laugh and laugh and laugh, like it’s the funniest thing they ever experienced.

 

 

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